Background and aims: The ongoing development of novel nicotine vaccines makes it urgent to identify the normative questions around this innovative health technology against smoking.
Methods: A qualitative thematic analysis of peer-reviewed papers on nicotine vaccination published between 2001 and 2013.
Results: In the scientific discourse, nicotine vaccination is presented in a neurobiological frame as a potent concept for (long-term) smoking cessation. Nicotine vaccination is also considered a hypothetical strategy to prevent nicotine addiction in minors. Ethical assessments are conducted for the use of nicotine vaccination in public health and clinical medicine. Whereas vaccination for primary prevention is usually associated with public health, the hypothetical case of nicotine prevention in minors is also assessed for individualized protection. Therapeutic and preventive applications are given uneven attention: the classic goal of vaccination (primary prevention in minors) receives methodical consideration and invokes lively debate. The unprecedented use of vaccination, namely smoking cessation, is left largely unattended in the ethical analyses.
Conclusions: While health innovations such as nicotine vaccination need broad reflection to guide decisions on their further development and possible future implementations, only a small part of the ethical and social issues of this innovative technology has been discussed. For a debate to come into existence, a 'neurobio-psycho-socio-cultural' frame of smoking and quitting appears fruitful. Important topics for reflection are the human activities and social processes in a vaccine-supported quit attempt, next to respect for individuals, possible harms and questions of (global) justice and research ethics.
Keywords: Bioethics; expectations; framing; innovative health technology; nicotine vaccination; normative debate; public health ethics; scientific community; smoking; social process of quitting.
© 2014 Society for the Study of Addiction.